Larger than Europe, in Kazakhstan you’re bound to cover distances. Vast, empty steppes can be monotonous but also allow you to wild camp pretty much anywhere and deploy the rooftop tent (although with the fierce wind you may prefer sleeping in your overland vehicle).
The truly beautiful spots for Kazakhstan, however, are elsewhere – beyond the steppe. Wild camping in the region around Almaty must be gorgeous in all those mountainous landscapes, which we hope to experience next summer.
Our favorite region thus far is the Mangystau Region in the southwestern corner of Kazakhstan. If you’re coming to Kazakhstan from Azerbaijan, don’t just blast through over the asphalted road. Get away from it and camp in what I would call among the most amazing landscapes in Central Asia.
Yes, Kazakhstan is a perfect country for overland camping, whether that’s with a ground tent, rooftop tent, your bivvy bag, or pop-up tent.
In this blog post we share our favorite campsites. These photos will give you a sense of magic that you will feel when traveling here and are meant as an inspiration.
By no means let our blog post limit you as to where to camp. Kazakhstan offers plenty of spaces, everywhere, and it’s part of a great overland trip to go and find your own favorite camping spot. So, be inspired here, see iOverlander (more on this below) as a useful back-up system, but go and have your own adventure!
Additionally I’ve added a couple of useful spots to park for the night and shared some extra information on climate (when to go or not to go), drinking water, toilets, and additional overland travel resources.
Let’s take a closer look!
Index for Overland Camping in Kazakhstan
In this blog post we will share the following topics:
1 – Map with GPS Waypoints of our Campsites in Kazakhstan
Let there be no misunderstanding: no, you don’t have to go to these places. No, these are not by definition the best spots. In Kazakhstan you will have no problem finding your own places to camp.
As mentioned earlier, we decided to share our GPS Waypoints for travelers who would like some tips about camping spots which we enjoyed or found practical. Please note that this is always our personal experience.
2 – Favorite Spots for Wild Camping in Kazakhstan
Tuzbair Limestone Canyon – Wild Camp
Why: Among the most gorgeous places we ever wild camped. Maybe we were lucky but it was dead silent – no breeze to disturb the overwhelming silence. No Wifi signal, no facilities. Just our Land Cruiser and we amidst a mind-blowing landscape.
GPS Waypoint: 44.039064, 53.158669 (alt: 120 meters, Dec ’19)
Sultan Epe – Wild Camp
Why: Beautiful view of a canyon and the Caspian Sea. Camped all by ourselves in the wilderness. On walking distance from the underground mosque of Sultan Epe. Drinking water from a well near the underground mosque (Locals claim it’s very healthy water).
GPS Waypoint: 44.474159, 51.023837 (alt: 160 meters, Dec ’19)
Valley of Balls – Wild Camp
Why: Gorgeous spot with a view of a high concentration of these natural balls (called ‘concretions’), and in the distance stretching the plains hemmed in by spectacular mountain walls.
GPS Waypoint: 44.323693, 51.596119 (alt: 139 meters, Dec ’19)
Castle Valley – Wild Camp
Why: From here you have a gorgeous view of massive limestone outcrops all around you. Even better during sunset when they color dark red.
GPS Waypoint: 44.27853, 52.088476 (alt: 70 meters, Dec ’19)
Sauren City Wall – Wild Camp
Why: Serenity, emptiness and silence. Beautiful sunset.
GPS Waypoint: 43.515977, 67.764295 (Nov ’19)
Dike Kokaral – Wild Camp
Why: Flat terrain along the Aral Lake next to a sluice. Beautiful view of the lake and yellow reed beds.
GPS Waypoint: 46.101809, 60.770813 (alt: 40 meters, Dec ’19)
3 – Useful Spots for Overland Camping
Baikonur – Roadside Restaurant Parking Lot
This is not about this specific parking lot, as the owner of the restaurant wasn’t particularly nice and the food prices were two or three times higher than anywhere else. Parking fee 500 Tenge, which is okay.
I’m mentioning this because along the highway Shymkent – Aralsk you will find more of these restaurant cum hotel cum mega parking lots-cum sometimes banya cum sometimes car repair shops.
If for nothing else, the walls around the parking lot offer good protection against the fierce (cold and/or dusty) winds from the steppe.
GPS Waypoint: 45.743055, 63.629015 (alt: 100 meters, Dec ’19)
Aralsk – Fishing Museum Parking Lot
Why: Nothing special but a quiet/convenient place to spend the night. Public toilet around the corner, or ask at the restaurant on the corner of the main street. (We were sent away from the square with the I love Aralsk letters).
GPS Waypoint: 46.795317, 61.662364 (alt: 55 meters, Dec ’19)
Steppe 20 km east of Bozoy – Wild Camp
Why: This spot was a bit hidden in the dunes, which gave some protection from the fierce wind of the plains. But, of course, you can camp anywhere for the night on these empty plains.
GPS Waypoint: 46.195554, 59.060247 (alt: 123 meters, Dec ’19)
Read more: Kyrgyzstan Overland Travel Guide
4 – Paid Campsites & Other Paid Accommodation
Shymkent – Sweet Home Hostel
Why: Super kind owner, kitchen, very good showers, Wifi = good, stylish interior. The car stood outside in the street = okay.
GPS Waypoint: 42.308060, 69.44660 (Nov ’19)
Aktau – Medet Hostel
Why: The Medet Hostel is a convenient place to spend the night if not wanting to camp somewhere along the coast (which would be a perfect alternative during warmer weather). This massive hostel has no atmosphere but has clean rooms with private bathrooms, Wifi in the lobby, and a shared kitchen. We paid 5000 Tenge for a room with two single beds + bathroom. Laundry 500/kilo. Supermarkets and bazaars on walking distance, as is the Caspian Sea.
GPS Waypoint: 43.638218, 51.168221 (Dec ’19) 123 meters, Dec ’19)
Read more: Stuck in Aralsk; a Random Day in Overlanding
5 – Staying with Locals
Couchsurfing is a great way of meeting local people. In Kazakhstan, however, we used Couchsurfing only a few times
By the way, Couchsurfing is not necessarily a platform to stay with locals as the name implies. Locals may also offer to show you around in the city, to go for a drink, or whatever. There are two fundamental aspects of Couchsurfing: no exchange of money (all = voluntary), and it’s not a dating site.
You can find Couchsurfing here, and us under ‘Coen Wubbels’.
Other Ways to Stay with Local People
In Kazakhstan we met people in other ways as well, on the street, through 4×4 communities, and were invited by followers who found us on the website, Facebook, or Instagram. We find the people in Kazakhstan to be kind and helpful. Our homestays have been a great addition to our travels in Kazakhstan.
Read more: Couchsurfing in Russia
6 – A Word on Climate
Our first stay in Kazakhstan was in December. We traveled on the eastern side of the country, from the Russian border down to the Kyrgyz border. It was incredibly cold, with freezing temps as low as -20C. Lots of fierce wind blowing across the steppe. Not a recommended time to do that trip (one advantage: the potholes of that incredibly bad road are filled with snow :-))
Our next visit, in 2019, was in November / December. Again winter. We decided to stay in southern Kazakhstan (Shymkent – Aral Lake – Mangystau Region). This was much more doable. We had very little snow and mostly temperatures above 0 (Celsius).
A big plus: the ground was frozen, a great preference over mud baths that may occur in some places here. It was not exactly great weather for wild camping, sitting outside around a bonfire, but doable.
I’ve been told that the best time of the year for overland travel in the Mangystau Region is April/May and for the mountainous region around Almaty it is summer.
Check Out: Our Recovery Gear
7 – A Word on Water & Toilets
Whether tap water in cities, towns and/or villages is potable depends on whom you ask, it seems. Maybe it does depend per destination, maybe some people don’t really know. We get the impression most people drink tea rather than cold water, so the water is boiled and it doesn’t matter anyway.
In our Land Cruiser we have a watertank with filter system so normally it’s not an issue either. Due to frost we can’t use the system in winter, and buy a few five-liter bottles that we fill up wherever we can.
Whether you hike, bicycle, motorcycle, drive a car or backpack around the country, don’t buy bottled water. Bring a stainless-steel water bottle and a water filter system. There is an amazing selection of small, handy, water filter systems out there, such as MSR water filters (we use this one) or, even smaller, a SteriPen or Lifestraw. Or carry water purification tablets if weight and space really are a big issue (we do so on our long-distance hikes).
The environment will thank you!
As to toilets, expect long drops in little-sheltered huts in the countryside and even in towns. Bring toilet paper wherever you go. In cities there may be sit toilets but don’t flush the toilet paper; it goes in the bin.
8 – A Word on iOverlander
Whether wild camping or staying in hotels, iOverlander is the best overlanding resource on finding places to stay as well as other practical points for overlanders, e.g. on workshops. (You may find a number of the above-mentioned campsites on iOverlander).
iOverlander a non-profit project, started and maintained by fellow overlanders. To keep this great resource for overlanders going, you can contribute in (at least) two important ways:
- Donate (you will find the donate button on the website).
- Share your own experiences of camping that add value to other overlanders (camping spots or otherwise useful points).
Find iOverlander here.
9 – Additional Overland Travel Resources
Suggestions to find good travel information on Kazakhstan:
- The forum on Horizons Unlimited has been a longstanding source of information especially for motorcycle tourers but has a growing wealth for four-wheeled travelers as well.
- Overlanding Facebook groups among which Overland to Asia and Overland Experience.
- Journal of Nomads is an inspiring travel blog for Kazakhstan (and other Central Asian countries).
- Caravanistan is an excellent, up to date online resource for Central Asia.
- We used a Bradt Kazakhstan Travel Guide, Insight Guides Russian phrasebook, and Reise KnowHow Kazakhstan Roadmap.
- Keep an eye on our own Kazakhstan blogs, among which a Travel Guide and Budget Report that will follow soon.
Tips, Suggestions, Contributions?
We hope you find this overview of Overland Camping in Kazakhstan useful. Do you have questions or your own experiences to add?
Feel free to do so in the comment section below. Thanks!
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